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Murrieta explores crowdfunding to help finance incubator needs
Friday, September 27th, 2013
Issue 39, Volume 17.
"We always try to explore new ideas in Murrieta, and that’s the objective," Bruce Coleman, the city’s economic development director, said in a recent interview. "I think everything these days is brand new."
In this case, the new push in government funding methods turned out to be recruiting potential donors via one or more internet sites that post individual or community needs in exchange for a share of the revenue provided.
This funding opportunity – posted on www.citizinvestor.com – is seeking donations to help equip a city facility that houses small, start-up companies that it hopes to nurture and grow. That so-called business incubator is located in Murrieta’s former city hall.
"We want to be very frugal in what we’re doing," Coleman said of the decision to use the unorthodox funding method rather than simply tapping the city’s general fund.
On Tuesday, with 10 days left in an extended donation cycle, the effort was far short of its targeted amount. At that time, just four potential donors had offered to contribute a total of $320 toward the cost of purchasing 10 tables and 40 rolling chairs that would help equip Murrieta’s Regional Technology Innovation Center.
The funding deadline, unless it is extended again, will expire in early October and the potential donors will not be obliged to honor their commitment.
Citizinvestor is one of many crowdfunding sites that have cropped up in recent years. Such websites tout themselves as simple, reliable ways to solicit funds for personal, business or government needs or causes.
Citizinvestor was co-founded by Jordan Raynor, who together with the company was profiled in June by the San Francisco Chronicle. The story traced the company’s origin about nine months earlier in Philadelphia.
In the story, Raynor noted that "Municipalities are really, really broke" financially. He predicted that some taxpayers are willing to pay more money for government services and projects than the sums that are extracted from their taxes.
The story also noted that, due to government transparency issues, donors might be called upon to identify themselves if they help fund public works projects or other needs.
Raynor describes himself on the company’s website as a "digital strategist that has spent my career solving real problems in government and politics through technology."
The site recently listed numerous projects across the country in cities that included Elk Grove, Boston,Philadelphia and Tampa. The other projects included a community garden, bicycle parking lot and computer technology for the blind. At least five of the posted projects have reached their funding goals, according to the site.
Raynor outlined key details of the program in an Aug. 6 e-mail to a newspaper reporter that told of the Murrieta offering. At that time, a 29-day deadline had been set to raise the funds for the incubator chairs and tables. They deadline was extended at least once since that time.
Murrieta launched its incubator program more than a year ago, and it was showcased during the State of the City Address in February.
Murrieta’s program was unveiled about the time of a similar Temecula effort, which was named the Temecula Valley Entrepreneur’s Exchange. Both programs occupy sections of the two municipalities’ former city halls.
The two cities have each roughly quadrupled their populations to more than 100,000 residents since they incorporated in the late 1980s and early ‘90s.
Temecula set aside space for its incubator after its first municipally-owned City Hall closed in December 2010. At that time, Temecula opened its current Civic Center, a 95,500-square-foot complex that cost about $73 million in land, infrastructure and construction costs. The Civic Center includes a conference center, a parking garage, outdoor amphitheater and satellite police and tourism promotion offices.
Murrieta found itself with surplus space after it also replaced a crammed industrial building with a modern government complex that anchors a 34-acre site.
In 2002, an $11 million police station was the first building to open in Murrieta’s civic center complex, a multi-phased project that was intended to help revive the city’s historic business district. The $13.5 million City Hall, which totals about 36,000 square feet, opened in March 2008.
Although both incubators are operating well below their capacity, officials from the two cities say both are needed to serve the fast-growing region. Both cities share the same vision of growing small businesses into larger companies that stay rooted in the area.
"They’re parallel," Coleman said. "They’re here to help each other. We’ve got to see ourselves as a twin city. That’s our goal."
Thus far, Murrieta’s incubator has attracted a national defense company and medical research firms. Other companies have expressed an interest in possibly participating, Coleman said.
Temecula has so far attracted companies that focus on laboratory testing and the computer software and hardware industries, said Cheryl Kitzerow, a city economic development analyst. She echoed Murrieta’s perspective that the two incubators complement each other rather than compete for prospective clients.
"They don’t compete because they have a different focus – a totally different focus," she said in a recent interview.
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